Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said on Monday evening he would meet opposition leaders to forge a “new social contract” to alleviate inequality as thousands of Chileans defied a military curfew in protest marches around the capital, APA reports citing Reuters Santiago.
Pinera struck a conciliatory tone in a national address from the Moneda Palace in Santiago after declaring on Sunday from the city’s military barracks that the country was “at war” against vandals, a statement that sparked outrage in some quarters.
“If sometimes I have spoken harshly... it’s because it makes me indignant to see the damage and pain that this violence causes,” the 69-year-old conservative billionaire said.
Thousands of Chileans poured into Santiago’s central squares on Monday to protest high living costs after a weekend of looting, arson and clashes with security forces killed 11 people.
The crisis was sparked by protests over an increase in public transport fares but reflects simmering anger over intense economic inequality in Chile, as well as costly health, education and pension systems seen by many as inadequate.
Throughout Monday demonstrators spread along main thoroughfares and bridges around the city, remaining on the streets until past 8 p.m., when an official military curfew came into force, before soldiers gradually dispersed them using water cannons, tear gas and verbal persuasion.
Although he had described protesters as “delinquents” in previous statements, Pinera this time referred to “small groups” of vandals that had ransacked market stalls, supermarkets and small businesses, requiring a reconstruction plan that would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars”.
“We want to repair not only the physical damage but also the moral damage that these acts of violence have caused in the body and soul of our country,” he said.
He vowed to find ways to reduce the costs of basic services like electricity and highway tolls, improve the country´s pension offerings and reduce the price of medication and medical waiting lists.
“I am very conscious that this is a first step and we have a long way to go,” he said.